prowled around his rented room, restlessness weighing on him like a blanket. He hadn't
slept in days. He couldn't even remember how many days but then, he had no idea what day
it was now. He had to sleep. Hungered for it. But every time he slept, the dreams came.
But he had to do something.
Stimulants only worked so long before he grew afraid to take them because of the
increasing paranoia. Not that he didn't have a reason to be paranoid.
He sat down abruptly. Maybe
if he just sat down for awhile. Maybe just rested. Shut his eyes for a short time. Not
sleep, no. Just rest for a few minutes. . .
He felt the warmth of a
body beneath him, the caress of hands on his chest and he groaned, never wanting this to
end. His body, slick with sweat, pressed hard against and into his lover's body, feeling
the tightness caress him, the warmth surround him as he began to thrust rhythmically.
Jarod sighed with pleasure
and opened his eyes, knowing what he would see. What he had seen before. The lean,
attractive man beneath him, his knees raised, calves lightly caressing Jarod's sides as
they made love, hands gripping the headboard so hard the knuckles were white. With a
smile, Jarod reached up to stroke his lover's silvery hair, drawing his hand down into the
The other man's eyes
opened and intense gray-blue eyes met his. "Do it." His voice was low and hoarse
with passion. "Do it." Jarod let his hand drop to caress his lover, stroking him
in time with his own thrusts. This time, yes, please, this time. . . .
Jarod jerked awake with a
cry, eyes darting around the room but, of course. no one was there. He sat up, gasping for
breath. It was a just a dream, just a dream. Damn! It was just a dream!
He fell back into the chair,
all too aware that the ache in his groin remained. Once again, he had woke up just before
climaxing. At this rate, he'd be dead of terminal frustration before the Centre ever
caught up with him. With a sigh, he undid his painfully tight jeans and reached down to
stroke himself, falling back into the memory of the dream, striving for the intense
feelings that had filled him just moments before but his climax, when it finally came, was
unsatisfying. Something was missing.
His lover was missing. But he
didn't have a lover. Had never truly had a lover. In the sterile environment of the
Centre, he had found no one he had wanted. Who had wanted him. No one truly interested in
him as a person and not as a science project. And once out of the Centre, he had been too
busy, moving too quickly to acquire a lover. Only, for too brief a time, Nia. Gentle,
loving Nia whom he may never see again.
But in his dreams, he had a
lover. A dream lover, a silver-haired man with intense gray-blue eyes, pale skin and a
neatly-trimmed beard. A man as tall as he, smoothly muscled with scars on his chest, one
neatly bisecting the left nipple. In fact, he'd asked him about those scars just last
night. . . .
Jarod sat up so quickly his
head spun, fear surging through him. He had asked his dream lover about those scars and
the man had answered! Last night had been the first time they'd spoken to each other. Most
times the dreams had started with them already in each other's arms, ending just before
either of them climaxed.
Genius is dangerously
close to madness.
He'd heard that more then
once. In the Centre, from employees who thought he couldn't hear them or maybe didn't care
if he did.
How long will he last?
A man's voice, speaking softly.
He drew his knees up,
wrapping his arms around them as he stared into the distance, trying to remember. Who had
said that? And when?
How long. . .
How long what? How long
before he went insane? He closed his eyes, concentrating.
How long will he last?
A man's voice, speaking softly.
Quiet! He'll hear you.
Sydney! He's young. With the right training, right environment, he may never become
like the others. That's why it's important he stay here. Isolated. He isn't meant for the
Jarod opened his eyes. Was
this his fall into madness? He thought back over his last few "missions" and
shuddered. More then once, he'd come close to the edge, almost turning into what he was
fighting against. Almost hurt someone. Not by accident but intentionally. Because he
could. No, because he'd wanted to.
He reached for the phone.
He'd already done his usual safety precautions, rigging the phone to give false readings
to anyone who tried to trace the call. It had became automatic with him. So was the number
Sydney picked up on the third
ring. "Hello?" Jarod opened his mouth to speak but nothing came out. After a
moment, Sydney spoke again. "Hello, Jarod."
Jarod said finally. "You'll be happy to know that Crouger will live. However, she'll
never walk again."
"Neither will Liz
Manner." Jarod said sharply. "Or see. Or hear."
"You went too far,
Jarod. How long before you kill someone?" Sydney's words hit too close to home and
Jarod remained silent. "You have to come back to the Centre. Please Jarod. . ."
"How long does he
have?" Jarod said softly.
"Someone asked that
once. About me. How long does he have?' How long until what, Sydney?"
"Jarod. . ."
"Here's another cute
little saying I overheard. There's a fine line between genius and insanity.' Is that what
they were talking about? What happened to the others, Sydney?"
"What brought all this
on, Jarod? What's been happening?" There was real concern in Sydney's voice.
"Jarod, please tell me where you are. We can come get you. . ."
"I'm not going
back!" Jarod slammed the phone down.
Sydney stared at the phone
pensively, only half-aware of Miss Parker's arrival.
"Another call from your
pet project?" She asked in her usual mocking tones.
Sydney sighed, reflecting
that he was getting very tired of Miss Parker's put-downs of Jarod. "Jarod was asking
about the others."
Miss Parker's hand froze just
short of the coffee pot. "How did he find out about them?"
"A memory. Some
ill-spoken words in his hearing years ago."
"Why remember now?"
She asked, picking up the coffee pot and poured herself a cup. She turned to look at
Sydney. "Could he really be losing it?"
Sydney turned away.
"He's getting more and
more out-of-control." Parker continued. "People are starting to get hurt. How
long before he does something really dangerous? We have to find him."
"Tell me how and I'll be
happy to go get him!" Sydney snapped and Miss Parker threw him a surprised look.
Sydney turned away without meeting her eyes, refusing to reveal how worried he really was.
The bookstore was one of the
largest in the state. If he couldn't find what he wanted here, Jarod figured he wouldn't
find it anyway. He found the psychology shelves and spent the morning browsing through
them, searching for books pertaining to genius and madness. Of course, there were no books
on Pretenders. On their type of genius. Or on their possible descents into madness.
With that morbid thought,
Jared gathered up the books he chosen and started down the stairs to the main floor. On
the way to the check-out area, he passed by a display he'd barely glanced at before, a
towering display of books touted as psychological thrillers. But something about the
display had changed and he glanced at it briefly. A glance that turned into a double-take
as what he had seen registered.
Dropping the armload of books
he carried into a nearby chair, he turned back to what he had seen. The books were all
written by the same author. Most were paperbacks but the main book of the display, the
newest, was a hardback and one of those had been turned so the back, with the author's
picture, faced outward. And that picture was of the silver-haired man from his dreams.
Jarod picked one of the books
up, studying the picture harder. Yes, it was the same man. He flipped the book over to
look at the cover. "MUSHROOMS" was the title with "by J. Steven Horne"
under it. He looked at the inside back flap where the author information was. According to
it, this was Horne's seventh book, all of which were best-sellers. It gave general
information on Horne; that he'd been a profiler working with the Boston Police Department
who now wrote full-time. He lived on the New England coast where he was restoring a house
built in the 1700's with the aid of his two Celtic wolfhounds, Finn and Medb. So that's
what those were! Jarod looked at the picture once again. He'd thought that maybe those two
beasts were small horses. They were almost big enough to be large ones.
He looked over the display
and picked out one of each of Horne's books, carrying them up to the check-out, his
previous collection of books forgotten. Once back at the room, Jarod dropped the books on
the bed and scrounged together a hasty snack. He couldn't remember the last time he'd
eaten a decent meal or slept the whole night through but frankly he didn't care as he sat
cross legged on the bed and reached for the first book Horne had written.
He spent the day and most of
the night reading through the books. Each one was fairly thick and deep in every sense of
the word. Along with enjoyable and scary in a fun kind of way.
It was just past midnight
when Jarod put down the last book and reached for his computer. It took him awhile but he
finally managed to sneak into the publishing house's computers and lift Horne's address
from it. He wrote it down. . .he found himself unable to trust his memory. . .and was in
the process of rapidly packing up his meager belongings when he realized what he was
doing. He sat down abruptly.
What was he doing? He
couldn't just turn up at this man's doorstep. Horne didn't know him at all. But. . .but he
had to see him. He had to know that he was real. Maybe find out why he was dreaming of
him. Jarod shoved the last of his belongings into the bag and grabbed the case of DSAs. He
had to cross pretty much the entire continent to reach the east coast and the sooner he
got there, the better.
Two days later, Jarod stood
in the trees not too far from Horne's house, telling himself how crazy it was to come all
this way just to stare at a man he had dreams of. In fact, there was a word for it.
But he wasn't here to stalk.
Just to see. See if this man was real. If his lover was real.
No, not his lover. He didn't
have a lover and this man was just someone who look like what he imagined his lover to
look like. And this was really, really sick.
He sank back against a handy
tree, exhaustion sweeping through him. He hadn't slept in days and he couldn't remember
the last time he'd eaten. He'd spent two days on his bike, heading with a
single-mindlessness that now astonished him toward this goal and now that he was here, he
had no idea as to what to do. The wisest thing would be for him to turn around, get on his
bike and head back to that little village he'd passed through. Get some sleep, get
something to eat and leave, return to his chosen mission.
He straightened, determined
to do just that but then the front door of the house below opened and a man walked out.
Silver hair glinting in the early morning sunlight, pale skin covered by light clothing,
Steve Horne stood on the porch, the two dogs milling at his feet before darting off to run
into the woods.
Jarod watched him, seeing him
clearly despite the distance, the blood pounding in his ears. He looked just like in his
dreams, better even, and Jarod found himself licking his lips, remembering those dreams.
He tore himself away from those thoughts and turned around, staring blindly into the
What the hell was he
thinking, coming all this way and for what? More frustration. Well, he knew the man
existed so now he should just leave.
So why didn't he?
Something cold pressed
against his hand and he jumped, looking down to see one of those huge dogs next to him.
The other was just behind the first, both looking at him intently.
"Well, hello." He
reached out to scratch the beast's ears. "You must be. . ." He looked.
"Medb. And you're Finn." They panted, watching him intently. He looked down at
the man now removing shutters from a lower window and felt his mouth go dry. "This is
crazy. I gotta go."
He rubbed Medb's ears again
and turned but Finn was there, blocking his way. "All right, big fella. Out of the
way." He started forward but the dog didn't move. Instead he growled deeply, showing
his sharp, white teeth. "No. I have to go." He muttered this under his breath
and tried to push past the big dog but then Medb was before him, barking deeply.
Jarod stepped back at the
sight of all those teeth and tripped over something unseen. Reflexes slowed by exhaustion
and lack of decent food, he landed hard on his back, knocking him breathless. His vision
"Medb! Finn!" A
familiar voice said sharply along with several words that were strangely familiar. The
dogs fell silent and it was quiet enough for him to hear the sound of footsteps
approaching. He blinked the darkness from his eyes and struggled to sit up. Hands reached
down to help him up and he looked up into intense gray-blue eyes. Eyes that were achingly
familiar. Eyes that flared with recognition.
"You. . .who are
you?" Horne asked in a deep voice, accented faintly but before Jarod could even think
of an answer, he felt the blood pound in his ears and his vision dimmed again. This time
he passed out.
Steve Horne stared at down at
the stranger at his feet, mouth still open in total surprise. Realizing this, he snapped
it closed and knelt beside the man, hand groping for a pulse. Yes, there it was. So he was
still alive. Whoever he was.
But he was familiar. He had
seen this man before. In his dreams. The all-too vivid dreams he'd been having these last
couple of months.
He sat down hard, still
gaping at the man. "Now what?" He asked Finn then sighed. "Medb, fetch me
the phone. Phone, Medb. Go." The smaller of the wolfhounds took off for the house,
leaving Horne and Finn studying the newcomer. "What do you think?" Horne asked
Finn absently then blinked, realizing that he was holding a conversation with the dog.
He'd been doing that a lot lately.
Medb reappeared then, the
mobile phone in her mouth. "Good girl." Absently petting the huge dog, Horne
flipped the phone open and pushed a speed-dial button.
An hour later, he watched as
the doctor examined his mystery guest. "Malnutrition mainly. My guess is he hasn't
been eating well. Or sleeping either. Too damn thin. Any idea who he is?" She asked
as she closed her bag and rose.
"Remember those dreams I
told you about?" He waited for her nod. "He's the man in those dreams."
"Well." She eyed
the man again before turning away. "No one ever said living around here was boring.
Sure you don't want him taken into town?"
"Yeah, I'm sure. He'll
"That isn't what I
Steve blinked then sighed.
"I'll be okay, too. Come on, I'll walk you out to your car. Finn, stay. Guard."
He walked her down to her car, pausing at the sight of a motorcycle nearby, complete with
a duffel and silver case strapped securely to it.
"That must be his bike.
Wonder where they found it?" "They" being the two deputies Sheriff Belling
had sent up with the doctor to help carry the stranger into the house. He looked around
but the two were already gone. He made a mental note to call and ask later as he said
good-bye to the doctor, watching her drive away.
He stood there for a long
moment, lost in thought until a cold nose pressed against his hand roused him. He patted
Medb's head absently. "Let's check this out." He said to the dog as he walked to
the bike and unstrapped the duffel. Grabbing it and the case, he walked into the house and
back to the kitchen.
Medb took her customary place
in the huge walk-in fireplace as he thumped both items onto the table. He opened the
duffel first, grimacing at the sight of clothes that were obviously dirty. He pulled them
out, carrying an armful to the utility alcove of the kitchen and adding them to his
laundry, starting a load before returning to the table. Red notebooks, a laptop, a bundle
of identification. Horne thumbed through the last thoughtfully. All had photos of the man
currently upstairs, all had different last names but the same first. So his mysterious
visitor had at least part of a name.
"Jarod." He said
softly, surprising himself by savoring the name. With a faint smile, he dropped the bundle
and reached back into the duffel, this time pulling out some computer printouts. He took a
look at the one on top, a run-off photo of a woman, and swore. "Medb, my love, it
looks like we will have to talk with Aunt Hennah after all." Medb rumbled, tilting
her head inquiringly as the man reached for the phone.